•Bullets lodged in the wife’s body yet to be extracted
•Human Rights Community insists no citizen should be detained without trial
By Kayode Mathew
The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife, Hajia Zainab Elzakzaky have been languishing in detention for about two years now. They were arrested on December 14 2015 after the supporters of the Shi’ite movement had a violent encounter with the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff along Zaria road which led to the invasion of the cleric’s home by security forces where over 300 IMN members were reportedly killed.
El Zakzaky lost his left eye during the invasion and has expressed fear that he could lose the remaining one while some of the bullets lodged in his wife’s body during the attack on December 14 2015 have not been extracted.
On December 2 2016, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court however ordered the release of Zakzaky and his wife from detention The court also awarded them reparation of N50million and directed the Federal Government to provide a temporary accommodation for the couple since it was established that the Nigerian Army and the Kaduna state government had burnt and demolished their private residence located at Zaria. The government has however refused to comply with the order claiming that they were put under protective custody.
Counsel to the detained couple, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, has therefore made a fresh request for their release in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari dated November 7 2017.
In a further interview with Saturday Vanguard, Mr Falana lambasted the Buhari regime for treating the orders of court with disdain.
In his letter, Mr Falana told president Buhari that “in your New Year message of January 1, 2017, you urged members of the Shiite Community to embrace peace and obey the laws of the land. At the same time you directed all law enforcement agencies in the country “to treat them humanely and according to the rule of law.” But in utter contempt of the orders of the Federal High Court and in total disregard of your directive, the State Security Service has refused to release the couple from illegal custody. Thus, the dangerous impression has been created by the State Security Service that the federal government does not operate under the Rule of Law.
In case the Federal Government is not prepared to direct the State Security Service to comply with the orders of the Federal High Court we are compelled to urge you to order the release of the couple on health grounds. Although Sheik Elzakzaky lost his left eye while he is on the verge of losing the right eye sequel to the brutal treatment meted out to him by the armed soldiers, the State Security Service has denied him foreign medical treatment recommended by the local specialists who had attended to him. Even the alternative arrangement put in place by the family of the Sheik to bring eye specialists from abroad to treat him in custody has equally been rejected without any legal justification.
“It may interest you to know that the medical condition of Mrs Zainab Elzakzaky is by far worse than that of her husband. For reasons best known to the State Security Service, some of the bullets lodged in her body during the brutal attack of December 14, 2015 have not been extracted up till now. In the circumstances, she has been subjected to excruciating pain and agony, on a daily basis. Her life which is currently in danger may be saved and prolonged if she is allowed to receive adequate medical attention without any further delay”.
Mr Falana further said that the Judicial Commission of Enquiry which was set up by the Kaduna State government to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the violent attack unleashed on the Shiites in December 2015 did not recommend the indefinite incarceration or prosecution of Sheik Elzakzaky and his wife for any criminal offence whatsoever. Therefore, they should be allowed to regain their fundamental right to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Mr Falana also defended his decision to defend the Islamic cleric who has been accused of being an extremist.
He said “I have heard the argument that Elzakzaky is a Muslim fundamentalist. I was not engaged to defend any allegation of religious extremism. I know some members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria serving at the highest level of the federal government. I do not want to get engaged in the feud between the Shiites and Sunnis in Nigeria. Even though President Buhari is not a Shiite he has been alleged to be a Muslim fundamentalist. I don’t want to get engaged in such sterile and diversionary debates to cover up or justify the reckless brutalisation of the Shiites by the Nigerian Army.
“As far as I am concerned a citizen can only be said to be lawless in a failed State. But in any country where the rule of law operates no citizen is above the law. I always insist that any citizen who runs foul of the law should be prosecuted. That is why I am strenuously opposed to impunity in all its ramifications. Since December 2015 when the Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife were arrested and detained I have challenged the federal government to charge them to court. Neither the federal government nor the army has come up with any charge against them. Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to probe the military invasion of the worshipping centre of the Shiites in Zaria in December 2015. The panel did not recommend the trial of Elzakzaky as he was not found to have committed any criminal offence. On the contrary the judicial panel recommended the prosecution of the armed soldiers who massacred 347 Shiites and buried them secretly in an unmarked grave. Governor El Rufai has refused to allow the prosecution of the murderers. Can you believe that the Kaduna state government charged some of the survivors of the massacre with culpable homicide? Just two days ago, the high court upheld the no case submission of my colleague, Mr. Maxwell Kyon and dismissed the spurious charge.
“Before then we had sued the federal government to justify the indefinite detention of Elzakzaky and his wife without trial. What was the defence of the federal government? The Federal High Court was told that they were in protective custody. No allegation that they committed any specific offence. The presiding judge, Justice Kolawole concurred with us and held that the detention of the Elzakzakys was illegal and unconstitutional. Consequently, the judge ordered the release of the couple. That was on December 2, 2016. By the way, the judge is a Christian. I am not a Muslim. My colleagues, Festus Okoye, Maxwell Kyon, Deji Morakinyo and Samuel Ogaka who are handling the cases with me are Christians. For us in the human rights community the religion or ethnic origin of a victim of human rights abuse is totally irrelevant.
While many Nigerians have swallowed the propaganda of the aggressors hook, line and sinker the human rights community has insisted that no citizen should be detained without trial. Hence, the human rights community has demanded the release of Elzakzaky and his wife as well as Col Sambo Dasuki on the grounds that the courts have ordered their release from illegal custody”.
Lambasting the Buhari regime for its flagrant disobedience of court order, Mr Falana said “the Buhari regime is struggling to operate under the rule of law. Hence, court orders are treated with disdain. Under the defunct military dictatorship a citizen could not be detained outside the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984 signed by General Buhari. Under the current political dispensation a citizen cannot be detained beyond 24 or 48 hours without a remand order issued by a magistrate court pursuant to section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. No court has authorised the detention of the Elzakzakys. On the contrary a court of competent jurisdiction has annulled their detention.
There are 12 lawyers in the federal cabinet including the Vice President, Attorney-General, Secretary to the Federal Government, Minister of Communication, Minister of Information etc. Regrettably, they have not been able to convince President Buhari to call the State Security Service to order. By failing to insist that the federal government be run under the rule of law they have allowed the State Security Service to expose the federal government to ridicule through arrogant disobedience to court orders.
“In my letter, I reminded President Buhari that he was once detained by the Babangida military junta. Notwithstanding that the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime had detained me, I convinced my colleagues to demand the release of both Generals Buhari and Idiagbon when they were detained by General Babangida. When the Abacha junta convicted General Olusegun Obasanjo and other serving and retired military officers and sentenced them to death we mounted a campaign for their release. So, if my law firm had not been directly engaged by the Elzakzakys I would still have led the campaign for their release. In making a fresh demand for the release of the couple I am challenging the inexplicable impunity of the State Security Service in defying the valid and subsisting orders of the federal high court.
“For tactical reasons I cannot disclose our options and strategies for now. But I can assure you that we are going to enforce the orders of the federal high court very soon. This is the first time since 1914 that a government, be it alien or indigenous, military or civilian, dictatorial or democratic, has detained a couple for almost two years without trial. I expect the President to order our clients’ release without any further delay”.
He also confirmed that the panel set up by the Kaduna State Government met the couple in custody with a view to taking their evidence but they declined to give evidence before the panel. According to Mr Falana, “The Sheik revealed to the panel the extent of the brutalisation of his person and his wife, the killing of his sister and three of his children in his presence, the loss of one of his eyes, the fear of losing the remaining one and the refusal of the federal government to extract some bullets from his wife’s body. But when the army counsel wanted to cross examine the Sheik he declined on the ground that he could only be cross examined in the open and not in camera. As counsel we could not fault his principled stand.
“Since the Presidential panel could not persuade the State Security Service to release our clients they asked us to withdraw their petition. We have since carried out their instructions. Even though we have our respect for the members of the panel it is painful to note that a government which has refused to obey the orders of the Federal High Court will certainly ignore the recommendations of the panel if it does not favour the Nigerian Army”.